It’s back to school time. All around the world children are piling into school buses, excited to show off their new clothes, to break open their brand new school supplies and find out what this new year will hold. But high in the mountains of southern Bolivia, there’s a different kind of excitement. For these children, back to school means more than seeing old friends and meeting new teachers.
It means an opportunity to transform the lives of their families.
You see, in the high plains region where these children live, it is notoriously difficult to grow food. The dry mountain air, the rocky soil and the high altitude, mixed with freezing temperatures at night, are inhospitable to most types of crops. As a result, families are forced to get by on a very
basic, very poor diet, lacking in a variety of vital nutrients.
The lack of protein leads to stunted growth, learning disabilities, birth defects and serious muscle and heart issues. The absence of Vitamin C leads to fatigue, depression and poor dental health. Lack of iron means anemia, irregular heartbeat, complications during pregnancy and delayed growth in infants. These families are struggling to survive.
The good news is – that’s all about to change.
For the first time in generations, people will have access to crops that will provide all the missing nutrition they need to live healthy lives. The best part is – it’s their children who will lead them to it!
At Esperança, we believe in giving a hand up rather than a hand out. While it would be easier to simply deliver food to villages like these, we understand that sort of relief is only temporary. In the long run, it is worth going the extra mile, to spend the extra time and resources to teach skills and provide the sort of education that will continue to make a difference long after we’ve moved on.
That’s why last year Esperança led a pilot program that exposed school children in the village of Huayllajara to brand new vegetables they had never seen before – things like Swiss chard, lettuce, purple cabbage, parsley and beets. As a part of their lesson plan, they learned how to plant and care for each new vegetable, how to make compost and what to watch for in order to keep each plant healthy. Each student was responsible for growing and tending each type of vegetable over the course of the school year.
I’m proud to say that our efforts to “teach a man to fish” paid off. The program was a huge success! At the end of the year, every student took home a healthy mini crop and new seeds to their families. But more than that, they took home vital information and experience they can use to teach their parents how to start crops of their own.